Suicide Squad: Apokolips Now (2016)
Reprints Suicide Squad v1 #31-39
Written by John Ostrander, Kim Yale, and Robert Greenberger
Art by John K. Snyder III, Luke McDonnell, Grant Miehm, and Geof Isherwood
Suicide Squad: The Phoenix Gambit (2017)
Reprints Suicide Squad v1 #40-49
Written by John Ostrander, Kim Yale, and David M. DeVries
Art by Geof Isherwood, Luke McDonnell, and Mark Badger
Suicide Squad had an interesting conceit that allowed it to shift the narrative focus every few issues. It was also easy to drop new characters into the book and toss them out when needed, as they were primarily supervillains going through Belle Reve’s revolving door or getting killed on the missions. For the first two and half years of the title, that was how things were, but in the wake of The Janus Directive, it appeared John Ostrander was interested in dramatically shifting what the Suicide Squad would be. Before he can head off in a new direction, though, he has to wrap up loose ends from previous years.
Duchess was such a strange character to be on Suicide Squad. She wasn’t a villain that had been arrested; she was an amnesiac woman the team stumbled across in the swamp. Duchess was very proficient with heavy weapons and filled that role on missions. However, after only a few appearances, Amanda Waller knew she was dealing with a liar. In the first year of the series, Belle Reve had been attacked by the Female Furies, soldiers for Darkseid under the command of Granny Goodness. Waller had Glorious Godfrey locked up after the events of Legends, and so these killers were sent to retrieve him. One of them, Lashina, was thrown into the swamp as the rest of the Furies retreated to Apokolips via Boom Tube.
For most Apokolips Now, we have Lashina collecting people she has either coerced or forced into helping her return home. She plans to offer them as tribute when she arrives to get back in Granny’s good graces. Shade, the Changing Man, agrees to help in an odd twist for that character; however, he always seemed to never fit into the group dynamic. I chalk it up to Ostrander liking some aspects of the character but never really having the time to spotlight Shade.
This is also used as an opportunity to bring Poison Ivy into Suicide Squad. She had a reworked origin post-Crisis and showed up battling Batman a couple of times. Unlike today in the wake of Batman: The Animated Series, Ivy wasn’t a terribly well-known character. But under Ostrander, she starts to have her personality fleshed out and even develops a rivalry with Count Vertigo due to her mind control powers. The battle on Apokolips is an entertaining series of issues, with my personal highlight being Waller vs. Granny, a fight that just felt like it was destined to happen once you saw it.
Also mixed in here is the revelation of the mysterious Oracle (Barbara Gordon, but going under an alias), some significant developments between Bronze Tiger & Vixen, as well as a fantastic spotlight moment for Doctor Light. At this point in his history, Dr. Light had become the butt of an ongoing joke. He’d started as a villain in the pages of Green Lantern and by the late-1980s mainly had been pitted against the New Teen Titans. It was at the hands of these teens that Light was soundly defeated. Ostrander plays that for laughs, with Light shying away from fighting younger superheroes. All the plot points that had been strung along for a year or so come together in this collection, and it is a very satisfying read.
In a move that no major comics company would ever allow now, Suicide Squad jumps to one year later for The Phoenix Gambit. It’s one of those moves that make sense for the story, but I can’t quite help wondering how that played with the very continuity-obsessed DC Comics. They hadn’t quite become sticklers about it at this time, but this narrative decision certainly makes the title feel separate from the other ongoings and events of the DCU. Ostrander’s wife, Kim Yale, is also on board full-time as a co-writer, and the entire format of the book changes. The characters spend less time wearing colorful comic book-type costumes and more practical outfits for missions. Instead of a constantly rotating cast, Ostrander & Yale build a core cast of characters to develop.
Waller has been locked up for acting against the wishes of the United States government, but with Batman’s help, she is released. Her first point of order is to transition the Squad from a black ops military task force into mercenaries for hire. Ostrander brings in the collapse of the Eastern European bloc, which was happening when the stories were published. Vlatava is the home nation to aristocrat Count Vertigo and becomes the setting for one of the big story arcs collected here. Waller and Batman work together with the team to create an outcome that best suits their interests and pull the Count away from his homeland.
One of the elements I love about Ostrander’s work is that he spent time on the psychological aspects of the characters. Yes, they are villains, but what if their villainy results from a chemical imbalance? They might not mean to be evil; they just lack resources to help them control it. Deadshot is one character who is shown to actually have a severe mental illness, which is why he’s locked up in Arkham during the lost year. Captain Boomerang gets a backstory that recontextualizes his entire career as one of The Flash’s Rogues. Boomer is shown to have grown up in a family where he was facing physical and verbal abuse from day one. His calloused nature was just a natural coping mechanism that led to his complete revulsion for pretty much every human he met.
The art across these issues is a mixed bag and is the element that often drew me out of the stories the most. Luke McDonnell only returns for fill-ins at this point and is no longer the primary artist; he is truly missed. John K. Snyder III draws most of Apokolips Now, and I disliked his style. It was unrefined and sloppy, not the style I think best-suited Suicide Squad. In The Phoenix Gambit, Geof Isherwood handles most of the pencils, and he’s a bit better. Isherwood is clearly comfortable drawing people in civilian garb, which may explain the shift in the book from costumed antics to more grounded mercenary work. The book would continue on this path as it moved into its final phase, and the end of the Suicide Squad was coming fast.